Search Engine Optimization 101 for Developers: Part 2

In the first article of this series, we went over the basics of how search engines retrieve data, as well as the basic definition of what search engine optimization is and how it works. In this article, we’ll go over the practical aspects of basic SEO, including steps that developers can take right now to get their apps and app-related websites ranked higher in search engine results.

The basics of good SEO

The basics of good search engine optimization aren’t rocket science. There are many different small tasks that put together add up to a site that attracts the people who are looking for it. Here are the basic principles of good SEO:

1)      Natural language. Always put your target customer first, and write for them. Don’t stuff your copy with keywords in the hopes of attracting more attention from search engines. This is called “keyword stuffing” and is roundly condemned by all major search engines. Optimizing for people first, writing for them in a natural manner rather than writing for a search engine, will always work out better in the long run.

2)      Links. All major search engines use inbound and outbound links as a ranking factor. Link to other sites that are similar to yours, and reach out to those sites in order to encourage them to link back to you. This is good Web etiquette.

3)      Target. We probably can agree that Britney Spears is quite popular. However, using her name or images on a site that is about your new Ultrabook app in order to pull in more views is a very bad idea. First, attempting to trick people into visiting a site that is not relevant to their interests is spammy. Second, this practice actually results in lost traffic, since people looking for the spammy keywords aren’t necessarily interested in Ultrabook app development. Always spend time researching your target market, using tools like the Google Keyword Tool, in order to find out what words and phrases your customers are using to find what you have to offer.

4)      Each page a window. Every page of your site should offer unique, original content. In addition to this original content that offers relevant information about specific topics, each page should also have its own original title, headlines, and topic-specific key phrases that are relevant to what your targeted searches are actually looking for. Each page on a website is a possible entry point, and therefore each page should offer unique, relevant content that delivers what a searcher is looking for.

5)      Keywords and key phrases. Taking the time to research which key words and phrases people are looking for in relation to your topic is crucial when optimizing a website. Put these key phrases naturally in site copy, as well as in titles, links, images attributes, video tags, and metadata (source code).  This also applies to how you name your URLs. Search engine-friendly Web addresses have clear, relevant keywords in them that make it easy to understand what the page is about.

6)      Social signals. Social media is here to stay, and it’s a vital factor in the measurements that search engines use when ranking sites. There’s no need to go completely overboard when using social networking, but a little bit of self-promotion never hurt anyone. It’s a good idea to reciprocate and share the link love to others in your field as well.

7)      Metadata. This is found in the source code of your page, and while search engines have devalued much of this information, it’s still important to fill out as every little bit counts. Spend time crafting a good title for the title tag that incorporates both what your site is about and your site’s name, as well as a succinct description for the meta description field that delivers in a tightly worded sentence (two at the most) what your site is targeting.

8)      Readable text. People read content online differently than they do offline, so it’s vital to create easily scannable text. Use headlines, lists, and bolded words to make text as easily read as possible.

9)      Monitor your stats. A good basic analytics program (Google Analytics is one of the best and it’s free) will help you figure out where your users are coming from, what they are searching for, and what they’re doing once they are on your site. Monitoring this information and using it to make your site better is one of the most important things you can do to raise your ROI.

10)   Value.  Genuinely useful content that offers a tangible benefit to users is the most important part of SEO. It’s really the bedrock of good search engine optimization, and if done right, it will do the heavy lifting of being found in search engines for you.

Ranking isn’t everything

While the goal of getting on the front page result of your favorite search engine is an admirable one, it’s not something that necessarily translates to money in the bank (or even visitors to your website). There are a number of SEO tactics that exist purely to boost sites in the search results, and while some of these are quite useful, many serve to only produce short-term results that can actually end up penalizing a site or a site owner. SEO is also an extremely competitive field, and there is absolutely no guarantee that it will make your site get on the first page of results – in other words, it’s not a fail-safe. However, that’s not to say that you should throw your hands up in the air and give up before you even get started. The best SEO experts who have seen many search engine changes know that there are many factors that influence how search engines view websites, and the best thing to do is simply make your site the best it can be for both search engines and search engine users.

Just the basics, ma’am

Most apps these days have websites attached to them – it makes sense since more Web real estate makes for greater chance of discoverability. In this article, we’ve covered the basics of organic search engine optimization. In the next article series, we’ll take a look at app store optimization, the practice of being found more easily by users in app stores.  App store optimization is considered to be the next iteration of search engine optimization, so now that we’ve got the basics under our belts, we can move on with confidence.